Written: March 1944
Source: Socialist Appeal, Vol. 5, No. 19, March 1944
Recent by-elections have been significant of the trends of mass opinion in Britain. The strain of four and a half years of war, and the activities of the ruling-class and the government in this period, are beginning to have their effect on the masses. The profiteering and racketeering of the capitalists at home, and their cynical deals with the fascist gangsters such as Badoglio abroad, have begun to disillusion the masses as to the aims and aspirations of the ruling-class.
More than anything else, broad sections of the workers are dreading the results of the war in its effect on their conditions and living standards in the post-war period. The workers remember very well the aftermath of World War I, when Lloyd George’s “land fit for heroes to live in” was transformed into the land of mass unemployment, the means test, and low wages for millions.
These are the issues that are dominating the by-elections at the present time. As the Observer has commented on the by-election in Bury St Edmunds, a former safe Tory seat:
“The people themselves, after fifteen years of political slumber, are awakening to a very sober consciousness.”
And the issues which concern the electorate of even a semi-feudal backwater such as this are ‘Beveridge’ housing and agriculture, i.e. the social and economic conditions of the masses in the coming period.
Even in such a constituency the Conservative candidate has only been able to scrape home by 2,500 votes, where formerly the seat was safe enough for the Tories to go uncontested.
The results in the other constituencies are even more revealing: in Brighton, a safe conservative seat, the personal intervention of Churchill failed to secure the election of the Government nominee. This is an indication that the myth that has been built around his name is already losing its grip on the masses. Skipton, another agricultural area, revealed the trend of the masses; here the Commonwealth candidate, standing on the platform of nationalisation of the land, secured the support not only of the agricultural labourers, but a large section of the small farmers as well.
The victory of Alderman White, the ex-Labour candidate who resigned from the Labour Party in order to contest the seat at West Derbyshire, was an even greater blow to the Tories and the Government; his poll exceeded that of his opponent by over 4,500 votes.
All these blows against the government are blows against the Labour leader’s policy of coalition with the capitalists. Thus all the efforts of the Labour and Trade Union leaders, and of the labour ministers in Government, to hamstring the movement of the masses, have been of no avail against the rising tide of disgust and discontent.
As significant, or even more significant, than the other elections, has been the result in Kirkcaldy. In this working-class stronghold the Labour candidate received only 8,000 votes – only 1,600 more than a candidate standing on the reactionary and puerile programme of the Scottish Nationalist Party, while a candidate standing for ‘Christian Socialism’ received 1,100 votes. This was a sharp revelation to the Labour leaders of the real feelings of the rank and file. The workers are becoming more and more critical of the deeds of the Labour leaders in Government, and are seeking an alternative policy; the vote for Scottish Nationalism was a gesture of despair.
From this, one thing stands out clearly: the masses are moving in one direction while the Labour and Trade Union bureaucracy are moving in another. The so-called political truce – in reality a political capitulation – is already shaking. Faced with this situation, the Labour Party Executive and the Labour Ministers called a special meeting to discuss the position; instead of giving an inspiring lead, they decided to continue the coalition. According to the Daily Telegraph report “The extent of such support (for Tory and Liberal candidates at by-elections) will be left to local decision.” This cowardly gesture was taken only because of the obvious impossibility of forcing the local Labour workers to carry this out, and the inevitability of a revolt within the rank and file of the Labour Party against its leaders.
The movement to the left has been clearly revealed in the by-elections. Yet here only the older people have voted, because of the outdated register; the vote of a whole new generation would be even more in the direction of the left. Not only at home, but even in the forces, the workers are heartily fed-up with the Tory Party of big business. A mock election in Cairo, in a Forces Club, gave 17 to the Tory, 38 to the Liberal, 55 to Common Wealth, and 119 to the Labour Party. These figures are astonishing! The vote for Common Wealth in the army, as in Britain itself, is an indication of the leftward movement of the middle-class, which is leaning towards socialism. But this is not the only indication of the process of radicalisation.
Even sections of the capitalist press have commented on the widespread development of support for Communism among large sections of the population, especially the youth. The pressure has been so great that the strike-breaking and pro-government Communist Party leaders have been compelled to alter their policy of support for Tory candidates and support for their opponents at by-elections.
Never in history have the masses been so ready for a fighting lead! A campaign for a general election and for the putting into force of a socialist programme by the Trade Union and Labour leaders would win the overwhelming support of the workers in the factories and in the army; the middle-class could also be won over on a fighting programme, as has been proved by recent events. A socialist appeal could pave the way for the coming to power of the Labour Party with an overwhelming majority of the people behind it. The coming to power of Labour on a socialist programme, and the carrying through of such a programme, would strike a death blow at the Nazis; all reports from Germany indicate that the German masses are only holding on because of their fear of the victory of Anglo-American imperialism.
The imperialists expect desperate resistance from the German soldiers when the Second Front is launched. One of the members of the government recently proclaimed in a speech that the casualties of the Second Front for the British troops would be as high as the ghastly slaughter of Passchendaele and the Somme in the last war. And the workers, by their votes, have already shown that they are beginning to realise what the aftermath of ‘victory’ will be for them. But a socialist appeal from the British workers would immediately arouse a response in Germany, and prepare the way for the overthrow of Hitler by the aroused workers of Germany and Europe.
The Workers’ International League stands for such a programme. The Labour leaders could take power, almost without resistance, from the ruling-class -- they are holding the workers back! But in the coming days events will break the truce. As the first step towards the workers taking power, it is necessary that the Labour leaders end their shameful capitulation to big business. Side by side with the workers, the WIL will fight for such a position. In the struggle, we are confident that we will convince the workers of the correctness of our position.
Labour workers – it is time to end the farce of ‘National Unity’ with the monopoly capitalists! The Tories have no mandate from the people; the by-elections show that they have lost the confidence of the masses – end the truce! For a General Election! Labour to power on a socialist programme!